Tag1 Consulting

Performance and Scalability Experts

Memcached and PECL memcache on CentOS and Fedora

At Tag1 Consulting we do a lot of work on increasing web site performance, especially around Drupal sites. One of the common tools we use is memcached combined with the Drupal Memcache module. In Drupal, there are a number of different caches which are stored in the (typically MySQL) database by default. This is good for performance as it cuts down on potentially large/slow SQL queries and PHP execution needed to display content on a site. The Drupal Memcache module allows you to configure some or all of those caches to be stored in memcached instead of MySQL, typically these cache gets/puts in memcache are much faster than they would be in MySQL, and at the same time it decreases work load on the database server. This is all great for performance, but it involves setting up an additional service (memcached) as well as adding a PHP extension in order to communicate with memcached. I've seen a number of guides on how to install these things on Fedora or CentOS, but so many of them are out-dated or give instructions which I wouldn't suggest such as building things from source, installing with the 'pecl' command (not great on a package based system), or using various external yum repositories (some of which don't mix well with the standard repos). What follows is my suggested method for installing these needed dependencies in order to use memcached with Drupal, though the same process should be valid for any other PHP script using memcache.

PECL Packages

For the Drupal Memcache module, either the PECL memcache or PECL memcached (note the 'd'!) extensions can be used. While PECL memcached is newer and has some additional features, PECL memcache (no 'd'!) tends to be better tested and supported, at least for the Drupal Memcache module. Yes, the PECL extension names are HORRIBLE and very confusing to newcomers! I almost always use the PECL memcache extension because I've had some strange behavior in the past using the memcached extension; likely those problems are fixed now, but it's become a habit and personal preference to use the memcache extension.

Installing and Configuring memcached

The first step is to get memcached installed and configured. CentOS 5 and 6 both include memcached in the base package repo, as do all recent Fedora releases. To install memcached is simply a matter of:
# yum install memcached

Generally, unless you really know what you're doing, the only configuration option you'll need to change is the amount of memory to allocate to memcached. The default is 64MB. That may be enough for small sites, but for larger sites you will likely be using multiple gigabytes. It's hard to recommend a standard size to use as it will vary by a large amount based on the site. If you have a "big" site, I'd say start at 512MB or 1GB; if you have a smaller site you might leave the default, or just bump it to 512MB anyway if you have plenty of RAM on the server. Once it's running, you can watch the memory usage and look for evictions (removal of a cache item once the cache is full) to see if you might want to increase the memory allocation.

On all Fedora / CentOS memcached packages, the configuration file is stored in /etc/sysconfig/memcached. By default, it looks like this:

PORT="11211"
USER="memcached"
MAXCONN="1024"
CACHESIZE="64"
OPTIONS=""

To increase the memory allocation, adjust the CACHESIZE setting to the number of MB you want memcached to use.

If you are running memcached locally on your web server (and only have one web server), then I strongly recommend you also add an option for memcached to listen only on your loopback interface (localhost). Whether or not you make that change, please consider locking down the memcached port(s) with a firewall. In order to listen only on the 127.0.0.1 interface, you can change the OPTIONS line to the following:

OPTIONS="-l 127.0.0.1"

See the memcached man page for more info on that or any other settings.

Once you have installed memcached and updated the configuration, you can start it up and configure it to start on boot:

# service memcached start
# chkconfig memcached on

CentOS / RHEL PECL Module Install

Fedora

If you are on Fedora and using PHP from the base repo in the distribution, then installation of the PECL extension is easy. Just use yum to install whichever PECL extension you choose:

# yum install php-pecl-memcache

Or

# yum install php-pecl-memcached

CentOS 5 / RHEL 5

CentOS and RHEL can be a bit more complicated, especially on EL5 which ships with PHP 5.1.x, which is too old for most people. Here are the options I'd suggest for EL5:

  • If you are OK using the PHP provided with EL5, then you can get the PECL extensions from EPEL. Once you've enabled the EPEL repository (instructions), you can install either PECL extension by using the same yum commands outlined above in the Fedora section.
  • If you want to use PHP 5.2 or PHP 5.3 with EL5, I suggest using the IUS repositories (IUS repo instructions). Note that IUS provides the PECL memcache extension, but not the PECL memcached extension. Based on which PHP version you decide to use, you can install the PECL memcache extension with either:

    # yum install php52-pecl-memcache

    Or

    # yum install php53u-pecl-memcache

CentOS 6 / RHEL 6

EL6 ships with PHP 5.3, though it is an older version than is available for EL6 at IUS. If you are using the OS-provided PHP package, then you can install the PECL memcache extension from the base OS repo. If you want the PECL memcached extension, it is not in the base OS repo, but is available in EPEL. See the instructions linked from the CentOS 5 section above if you need to enable the EPEL repo.

# yum install php-pecl-memcache

Or, enable EPEL and then run:

# yum install php-pecl-memcached

As with EL5, some people running EL6 will also want the latest PHP packages and can get them from the IUS repositories. If you are running PHP from IUS under EL6, then you can install the PECL memcache extension with:

# yum install php53u-pecl-memcache

Similar to EL5, the IUS repo for EL6 does not include the PECL memcached module.

PECL Memcache Configuration

If you are using PECL memcache extension and will be using the clustering option of the Drupal Memcache module which utilizes multiple memcached instances, then it is important to set the hash strategy to "consistent" in the memcache extension configuration. Edit /etc/php.d/memcache.ini and set (or un-comment) the following line:

memcache.hash_strategy=consistent

If you are using the PECL memcached module, this configuration is done at the application level (e.g. in your Drupal settings.php).

Once you've installed the PECL memcache (or memcached) extension, you will need to reload httpd in order for PHP to see the new extension. You'll also need to reload httpd whenever you change the memcache.ini configuration file.

# service httpd reload

SELinux

If you have SELinux enabled (you should!), I have an older blog post with instructions on configuring SELinux for Drupal.

That's it, you're now good to go with PHP and memcache!

Comments

Issues with Hierarchical Select

Submitted by Anonymous on Fri, 05/11/2012 - 12:20.

Have you run into problems with Hierarchical Select throwing an exception on Drupal 6 when Memcache is installed. We had to quickly remove Memcache because our site registration is dependent on this module. Can you suggest alternatives for caching?

Current CentOS 5 have php53 packages

Submitted by Anonymous on Thu, 05/03/2012 - 00:53.

CentOS have had php53 packages in their version 5 repositories since 5.6. It's true that the ones provided by IUS, php53u, are still more fresh (5.3.3 in CentOS versus 5.3.10 in IUS) but if one simply wishes to use PHP 5.3 on CentOS 5, now it can be done without external repositories.

php53 in EL5

Submitted by Jeff on Thu, 05/03/2012 - 13:15.

Yes, that's very true, however there are some issues with the PHP 5.3 packages included in RHEL/CentOS 5. They are a bit older than IUS, though not everyone will care about that. The major problem, especially with regard to memcache, is that EPEL does not include a package for the PECL memcache or memcached extensions for php53 as it does for the default PHP 5.1 packages in RHEL/CentOS 5.